By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern
As I sat in Julie Wiggins’ studio, I decided the way she imprints clay with careful designs is one big metaphor for how she imprints people with her quiet observations. She is one of those singular people who truly appreciates the mundane and knows the importance of reflection. A graduate from Eastern Carolina University, Wiggins was exposed to pottery through a college friend – a friend ultimately responsible for pushing her towards a degree in ceramics.
The budding potter went on to pursue graduate work as a student of the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute in China, where porcelain was discovered a little over 1,000 years ago. Although my knowledge of Chinese pottery is severely limited, I enjoyed Wiggins’ thoughts on notorious artist Ai Weiwei and female oppression.
“They [China] have such a turbulent history that I think he’s [Ai Weiwei] really speaking to the suffering of people and what they’ve gone through…so having lived there, I get that,” Wiggins explained.
“The thing that fascinated me studying in China was as an American and a woman I am the decorator and the glazer and the firer. There, they specialize in one area. I was very aware of my freedom of expression and how lucky I am to be able to make what I love. And people support me doing that.”
Most women in the Jingdezhen area can only focus on Yixing teapots because these can be made in the home and allow women to fulfill all of their domestic obligations as required by societal standards.
After returning to the States and being studio manager of Clayworks, Wiggins felt it was time to focus on full-time artistry. With two electric kilns and a close community of fellow potters – including previous Arts & Science Council Community Supported Art (CSA) participants Terry Shipley and Amy Sanders – Wiggins is able to create functional pieces with rich detail. Her trademark style is marked by feminine shapes and designs which help fulfill her goal as a potter: to encourage people to use beautiful pots in the home every day. While she doesn’t use many of her own pieces in the house, she does own an extensive collection of other artists’ work.
“It brings me a lot of joy to remember that person and the connection we have,” she said. “I’m constantly studying the pots in my home to help me refine the pots that I make.”
A passion for arts education means Julie can enable others to refine their ceramics skills. Prior to the great China adventure, she worked as an elementary school art teacher and continues to mentor students through an outreach program for Mecklenburg Catholic schools.
“I think it’s very important,” she said, “me being a working artist present in a kid’s creativity and help[ing] foster that…Had I had a program like this and someone really shown me that I had other talents at a young age, things could have been a little different. Plus it gets me out of the studio so I don’t take myself too seriously.”
Rest assured you really won’t find a humbler soul than Wiggins.
So what can CSA shareholders expect from her at the first pick-up event? A handcrafted tumbler with drawings
that Wiggins will incise using an Exacto blade. The imagery will be of native birds, flowers and food representative of North Carolinian culture. These tumblers are symbolic of reverting to old traditions – utilizing pottery in the home is evocative of simpler living.
Wiggins hopes Charlotte understands what it means to press pause and really connect with art.
“We’re such a vibrant, lush area…Romare Bearden Park is another stunning example of where we need to keep going. The elements of water and sound…and then to see people coming together and playing…laughing aloud, they’re not on their cellphones…realizing art in the everyday is slowing down.”
If you’d like to see more of Wiggins’ work, her local ceramics group Thrown Together Potters has a sale October 4th- 5th. Visit her website here.